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Computational Biology Programs

To learn more about this field and computational biology degrees, have a look at the detailed information provided below.

What sorts of problems do computational biologists work on?

Computational biology is mainly concerned with the analysis of molecular data. This includes the in-depth study of biosequences (RNA, DNA or protein sequences), gene expression data, three-dimensional protein structures or molecular biological networks. These data can be used to solve a large number of problems such as the reconstruction of the evolutionary history of various species, understand the complex regulatory codes that turn genes on and off and the identification of genes that cause diseases. Computational biology can also deal with non-molecular data – ecological or clinical data, for instance.

Is Computational Biology the same as Bioinformatics?

These two terms are often used interchangeably. The two fields are pretty much the same except a few minor differences in the details. For instance, computational biology is associated more with algorithms, methods for statistical inference and mathematical models. On the other hand, bioinformatics deals more with the creation of software tools, visualization techniques and database maintenance.

What is computational biology?

Computational biology is a fast developing field that merges biology with engineering and statistics. It streamlines biological and medical findings by applying computer science to life science problems. This field deals with areas such as genomics, genetics, cell biology, evolution, biophysics and biochemistry, among other similar subjects. To deal with these sub-fields, students are taught the use of various kinds of tools and techniques from several different quantitative fields. These include algorithm design, frequent statistics, machine learning and statistical physics, etc.

Computational Biology Programs

If you want to become a part of this complex field, there are certain educational requirements that you will need to fulfill. Degrees in computational biology are offered at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate levels.

Bachelor’s Degree in Computational Biology

You can pursue a 4-year Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Bioinformatics or a Bachelor of Science in Computational Biology. Some colleges might have this degree under the name of Bachelor of Science in Bioinformatics and Molecular Biology. This degree would help you gain a fundamental understanding of computer science and how it applies in the field of biology. Courses in a bachelor’s degree in computational biology would be along the following lines:

  • Computer Science Core Courses (Discrete Structures, Data Structures, Database Management Systems, etc)
  • Biology Core Courses (Experimental Biology, Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, Molecular and General Genetics, Biological Chemistry)
  • Math/Statistics Core Courses (Calculus and Analytical Geometry, Linear Algebra, Probability, Statistics)
  • Computational Biology Core Courses (Computational Genomics, Biological Modeling and Simulation)
  • General Sciences (Modern Chemistry, Physics)
  • General Education (Humanities, Arts, Literature)
  • Free Electives (Suggested free electives include Matrix Algebra, Statistical Regression, etc)

Master’s Degree in Computational Biology

Most employers in this field would require applicants to have at least a master’s degree qualification. This degree would enable students to gain a detailed understanding of complex matters such as genetics, neuroscience and drug design and the tools needed to solve new problems arising in all of these fields. With a master’s degree you will be able to learn the application of modern computer science, mathematics and statistics to problems in biomedicine and biosciences.

This two-year degree would have the following learning objectives in most institutions across the country:

  • Understanding the biological background needed to interpret data
  • Becoming familiar with essential tools and data resources required in bioinformatics
  • Being able to use computational skills for the management of large scale data
  • Conduct, design and evaluate experiments

The typical courses that you might study in a master’s program would be on the following lines:

  • Foundation Courses (Applied Cell and Molecular Biology, Professional Issues in Computational Biology, Algorithms and Advanced Data Structures)
  • Background Courses (Math, Biology, Statistics, Physics and Chemistry)
  • Breadth Courses (Genomics, Automation of Biology, Biological Modeling)

For admission into a master’s program, you would be required to have a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field. Most universities will have a GPA cut-off in place, typically around 3.0. In addition to that, you will need to submit your official undergraduate transcripts along with your GRE scores. Letters of recommendation are also required by most graduate level colleges.

Ph.D. in Computational Biology

This advance-level graduate degree can take between 3 to 5 years to complete. It is an integrative, multidisciplinary training degree that includes highly complex concepts of biology and computational and quantitative methods. Students will be taught the application of these concepts in and outside of the classroom. To get admitted into a Ph.D. program in this field, you will need to have at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject. Along with that, you will need to have taken certain courses beforehand. These prerequisite courses are as follows:

  • Differential Equations
  • Linear Algebra
  • Statistics
  • Computer Science
  • Genetics
  • Cell and Molecular Biology
  • Organic Chemistry

If you haven’t taken these courses before applying, you will need to fulfill these requirements in your first year in the program.

Typical courses for a Ph.D. program could be:

  • Genomic Tools and Technologies
  • Computational Sequence Biology
  • Structural Biochemistry
  • Biological Macromolecules
  • Statistical Methods for Computational Biology
  • Algorithms in Structural Biology and Biophysics
  • Data Intensive Computer Systems
  • Differential Expression Proteomics
  • Dynamic Modeling of Biological Systems
  • Special Topics in Computational Biology
  • Computational Geometry
  • Modeling and Engineering Gene Circuits

You will also be required to submit a well-researched dissertation or an independent study. This will be a faculty-directed project that will involve advance-level experimental and theoretical research.

Salary & Job Growth

The following statistics are published by O*Net OnLine on its Bioinformatics Scientists page.

Job Title


Job Growth

Bioinformatics Scientists



The salary figure reflects how much these scientists earned in median wages in 2016 and the projected job growth rate reflects the period between 2014 and 2024.

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